Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008 (Part 1 of 3)

Well, the Olympics have come and gone, but it's not too late to give an account of my adventures in Beijing. I was able to stay in Beijing from August 14-18 and it was pretty much non-stop fun. Two of my good friends were going to be in Beijing during that time: Derek, who is working in Beijing, and Amy (Swimmer), who is working in Shenzhen. Since the Olympics, I have reached the quarter century mark (25 years old) and would rather talk about my exploits while traveling than the realization that I am getting dangerously close to being what many people refer to as an "adult," whatever that might be. So, on August 14 I set out in the early AM to go to the Hangzhou airport to fly to Beijing. I decided to take the airport shuttle from the downtown area to save a little cash and it ended up being a fun experience. I was one of the first people on the bus and had sat down in a row by myself. Pretty soon, I saw a middle aged Chinese man get on the bus and glance around as many people do upon entering any type of public transportation, assessing the situation. Slowly his gaze found me and a big smile appeared on his face. I knew then that even though this bus was empty, this man was going to sit by me. To me, this is one of the more endearing things about Chinese people: their curiosity and kindness towards foreigners like myself and willingness to immediately approach them and practice whatever English they might speak. It turns out this man could speak pretty good English and we talked the entire 45 minute drive to the airport. He works for an offshore oil drilling company and told me all about his job, which sounds like really tough work. He was headed to the airport because he had an interview in Tianjin with Conoco Phillips and hoped to eventually work for them in the US. I practiced all the Chinese phrases I knew with him and he helped me correct my pronunciation and taught me new phrases, most of which were methods by which I could pick up Chinese women. By his estimates, if he were my Chinese teacher it would only take about 1 year to whip my Chinese abilities into shape. We finally made it to the airport and everything started according to plan. However, after about an hour or so into the flight, the pilot got on the speaker to say that our flight was being diverted to another city due to weather conditions in Beijing. Since I had tickets to a tennis match that day shortly after my flight was scheduled to arrive, I was pretty worried that I would miss it. We sat on the plane for hours and hours, waiting for clearance to finish the last leg. The rainstorm that went over Beijing also hit us in Jinan, where our plane had temporarily landed. Finally, though, we got the clearance and our flight ended up arriving in Beijing at around 8:30 pm, 6 hours after the scheduled time. Fun stuff.
The Cause of the Delay
Escaping the Rain
I immediately went to find a cab so that I could go to the tennis match, where I was meeting Amy and her friend Gill. However, the cab driver didn't know how to get to the tennis stadium and, because I didn't speak enough Chinese, I had to call both Derek and Amy to try to tell the cab driver where I needed to go. I think the driver finally gave up on me because he dropped me off somewhere that looked nothing like an Olympic venue. I had to make a few more calls and eventually had a security guard help me hail a cab and give directions to the stadium. Needless to say, after around 12 hours of traveling I was both frustrated and tired. However, despite my long delay, the tennis match had also been delayed and I finally arrived in time to see the two main matches. Now, I had been expecting to see a couple of no name tennis players, but I soon found out that I would first be seeing Roger Federer (Switzerland) play James Blake (USA). Roger Federer is one of the best tennis players of all time, but James Blake actually beat him, which was really exciting to watch. Of course a few U-S-A chants were in order.
Amy and Wes Outside the Stadium
Roger Federer James Blake
Inside of Tennis Stadium Who's This Guy?
The next match was Venus Williams (USA) vs Li Na (China). With the primarily Chinese audience, this match was particularly rowdy. Tennis is usually a pretty formal sport, with cheering normally happening only between points. However, many people in the audience didn't know this and would cheer or chant Li Na's name pretty much whenever they felt like it. The refs often had to ask them to be quiet, but that would only work for a minute or two. One time, thankfully between sets, the crowd began doing the wave, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't be happening if this were Wimbledon. Li Na played a great game, though, and beat Venus Williams who was heavily favored to win.
Venus Williams
Li Na
One more cool thing that happened at the tennis match was when I saw a guy being escorted by a formal looking security person into the lower section of the stadium. After taking a closer look, I realized that it was none other than Bill Gates. I nearly turned into a screaming teenage girl at a rock concert when I saw him, which I think might reveal that I am a bigger nerd than I thought I was. I tried waving at him and tried to take a close picture of him, but none turned out very well. Alas, meeting Bill Gate will have to wait for another day.
Old Billy Boy (In Green)
So, after a bad start, my first day at the Olympics ended up being really great after seeing some world class tennis and seeing Bill "The Man" Gates. More pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/OlympicsPart1


Chris said...

I love how it appears that the stadium is half-empty, yet all of the seats that likely will be visible during the telecast are full. "It is for the honor of the motherland". Rick Reilly had a good article on stuff like this here:

And Billy boy couldn't get better seats than third row?

I look forward to the next set of Olympic photos Wes....

Amy said...

That is really awesome that you were able to be there for some important matches. And Bill Gates, too! That's pretty cool.

Alice said...

that's really cool that you got to see that!